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The Following Leaders on Medium

I remember one distinct moment during a career development course at a community college I attended 21 years ago when the professor asked us to stand up and do an exercise. 

She asked the class to separate themselves into two groups; those who thought of themselves as leaders on one side of the classroom and those who thought of themselves as followers on the other. 

This question came without warning at the beginning of the class, so we didn’t have time to think it through. The result was probably more sincere because of this suddenness. 

For some context, the class consisted of about 30 students, mostly young adults under 21 YOA; I was about 21 years old. An interesting thing happened. 

An Important Life Lesson in Social Perception

The vast majority of the class went to the leader side of the class and only two of us went to the follower side. I was one of the followers along with another young man. How awkward; then the professor focused on us followers and asked us why we thought we were followers.

Interestingly, she didn’t ask each one of the leaders the same question. It seemed she and the rest of the class were puzzled over our seeming submission to a lower status. 

I answered, “I’ve always thought of myself as a leader that no one follows, and in general I find myself following more than leading.” 

The other guy was unashamed too, just an honest person that somehow wasn’t ashamed of his self-perception as a follower. 

This story has always stuck with me in life. I like to tell it to people for some reason, probably to shed light on the type of vain ambition so many people have in America to be the top dog, the dominant person, the leader so-called. 

Even back then I was trying to buck the system, break the programming, and live an honest life trying to find meaning beyond my own self-aggrandizing.

 Yet, I wonder, if I’m not doing it anyway by being different. I don’t try to be different, rather I try to find meaning and this usually means being different when so many define meaning as what is trending and popular.

Bringing this example back home, I find a similar sentiment and perception with most people on Medium (and elsewhere online). The paradox is, if the vast majority of people are leaders, then who is going to follow them? 

I realize those who write here are in some form a leader just by their willingness to write anything, at least to believe they have something to write about. Does this mean all writers are leaders then?

The question isn’t even if all writers are leaders, but if the writer considers themselves a leader. Then, another probing question is how many of them actually are; and, how many are really followers who think they are leaders?

Chasing the Wind of Leadership Status

I don’t want anyone’s head to burst thinking about it, but it correlates with a larger philosophical question — a paradox of sorts. It is sort of like writers making money by writing about making money (and never writing about anything else); to each their own, yet are these writers really creating any meaning through their craft?

I realize also there are many different types of writers and not all of them are trying to be creative or even leaders. Yet, what about here at Medium and on other similar writing and social sites?

By chasing the wind of leadership status, many writers are missing the point; if in the end, all you have is the status gained through following a hive mind template, the hollowness inside will eventually break down the perception of creativity once the nominal craft has been exhausted. 

In other words, if the meaning of the words doesn’t come from an inexhaustible place inside our hearts, minds, and souls, then the perceived success will only disappoint once the pinnacle of vain glory is reached through endless hours of dedication. 

Like chasing the wind.

The Following Leader

Like many writers here, I love to write, yet I also love to read and discover interesting articles and writers. Put in another way, I love to follow interesting and creative writers; on the other hand, I like to follow people who provide useful and valuable information, yet the former is more important to me. 

I’ve been off and on with Medium for around 5 years, never embracing it until lately. I’ve been a member before and was even part of the earnings program before you had to have 100 followers, yet I never saw it for what it offers as I do now. 

What I like most about Medium is the vast creative mind it offers to a reader. Instead of reading a book that takes me months (I like to read 10 at a time), I can read an article, an essay, a short story, or a poem. 

While certain topics interest me more than others, I often find writers and authors I wouldn’t generally look for in the comment sections. With hundreds of thousands of writers, there are plenty of gems in the rough to find. 

I realize status on Medium is gauged mainly by these factors:

  • follower vs. following ratio
  • amount of followers
  • how many articles written
  • profile pic and bio
  • Medium publications writing for
  • top writer status in certain topics
  • accolades elsewhere

How people judge by these factors depends on what they value. I realize, generally, if someone is following many more people than they are being followed by, this indicates they may be trying to rush the process of gaining followers, thus are perhaps insincere about their follows. 

On the other hand, there may be someone who is genuinely interested in all the people they follow and aren’t worried about the unsaid status indicator. 

I have a feeling most people are very conscious of their follower-to-following ratio, even to the point of not following to seem more popular. In other words, it may be a sign of being a snob. 

This goes back to the story I told in the beginning. Some writers may perceive themselves as a leader and thus follow those who are perceived as leaders — those who have many followers and follow few writers. 

Maybe those they are patterning themselves after are leaders after all, but those who are following them just because of their perceived leadership status are simply followers, even if they don’t follow many writers. 

See how it gets very cyclical? There is a pattern, a paradox that can’t be beaten by any crafty or clever thinking, even if the status is indeed earned by others who value this vain indicator.

I realize there are writers who are near-celebrity status who just don’t have time to follow many writers. There just isn’t enough time in the day for them to carefully view every notification and check out every writer, etc. 

Essentially, if someone is more concerned with their follower-to-following ratio than finding interesting and creative writers, this is a vain show and an empty illusion. Ultimately, they are missing out on the most rewarding aspect of Medium, following gems found in the rough. 

The Gems in the Rough

Unpretentious types are out there as gems in the Medium rough, waiting to be found and admired by followers not afraid to lose profile status. Their words are full of meaning and truth from the heart, and their articles may be crafted without thought of trending SEO metrics.

They don’t have to think like me, they don’t have to like me, and they don’t have to believe what I believe. Still, I can appreciate their writing style, content, and the motivations underlying their ambitions to write.

The following leaders may have blown apart their status ratio, yet they carry on without shame. 

While I appreciate the talent and dedication of the perceived topic leaders and may follow them for the value they provide, it is the following leaders I look for while searching the platform for new articles to read; because they are the writers who are offering meaningful words that won’t fade away with vain glory and hollow success. 


In the end, what I’m trying to say is those who are willing to follow unashamed and honestly tend to be the leaders even without trying; they bring meaning to words and inspire readers with thoughts beyond the trending masses; it is these types who also follow and appreciate others, giving meaning to their work as well, thus making Medium more than a pyramid scheme and a vain exercise in monetary fulfillment.  


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